The reasons for this blog: 1. To provide basic author information for students, teachers, librarians, etc. (Please see sidebar) 2. I think out loud a lot as I work through writing projects, and I'm trying to dump most of those thoughts here rather than on my friends.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Today, events conspired to send me to the last section of the former GN ms. Before being driven there by circumstance, I had the thought that it's okay if this last part's different in voice from the beginning--more bare and dialog-driven--because then I can bring it back around to match the beginning's tone if I want to, at the very, very end. And that would not be a bad thing at all.

As I worked on it this morning, a couple of nice things popped out. First, a repeated image from earlier tied up with an image from the middle, and so there they are together near the end, providing a nice thread that goes all the way through and not only develops, but tells me something I need to develop in the middle part, which is where I'm sort of stuck.

Also, I got some nice inroads made into developing the last section. I've got a new image that could provide me with some footing in other places, but it may be too stupid--will have to wait and see.

Also--this is not about the ms--I had a nightmare last night from watching The Virgin Spring. I couldn't tell you the last night a movie gave me nightmares. And TVS is an arty gore-free Swedish movie! It's very violent, but the power of the violence is in the way it's staged and filmed, not in explicitness. I'd seen the very, very end of the movie a while back, and thought it was kind of sappy, but when I saw it was on again I thought I'd take a look--not realizing that despite the sappy ending it was an Ingmar Bergman film. I got hooked even though it was kind of slow and quiet. Even the violence is slow and quiet and understated.

I've only seen a couple of IB movies before, and the only one I remember anything about is The Seventh Seal, which I didn't see all of, but which has the same slow pacing as TVS. Somehow the slow pacing gives me time to absorb and think, without boring me. In fact, it almost forces me to think. Maybe it's that the pacing's not really slow, but that there's a lot of silence. Maybe it's the way the shots are so carefully constructed in that silence, so you actually have time to think about what it means that they're that way.

I don't know what this all means to writing. I don't know what the equivalent of silence and carefully constructed shots would be, in a novel. I don't know how you'd achieve that leisurely pace while keeping the reader hooked and also drawing them in deeper. The thing about novels is that you can't control how long the reader takes to read. You can affect the pacing in the way you utilize sentence length and white space, but some people are going to read faster and some are going to read slower and there's nothing you can do about it. Unlike in a movie where if you have a 30-second shot, it's going to take everybody 30 seconds to watch it.

I saw a Youtube video where Ang Lee talked about the profound effect that TVS had on his work. He mentioned a scene near the end of the movie that I'd noticed, but hadn't considered in movie terms because I was busy thinking about the character. Not wanting to give spoilers, I'll just say that the shot shows an anguished man of faith speaking to God. Ang Lee points out that the natural shot for that--it's a climactic point of the movie--would be a close up on the man's face. Instead, IB used a long shot from behind the man, as he puts his fists to the sky, collapses, etc. The shot is outside, and I believe we see the man walk away from the camera, down a grassy slope we've seen before, and we end up slightly above him on the slope, looking down at the man who is centered on the screen as he has his moments of spiritual agony.

So: why? What does it accomplish to show the man like that, rather than letting us see all the details of his expression? To me, his agony doesn't seem any less because of the distance. Maybe it makes it worse because he seems more alone in the middle of the screen. You'd think that drawing close and getting a really good look at him would be more raw and powerful--but this scene is somehow constructed so that staying at a removed distance does the job better. And we don't see his face, only his back, his posture, his gestures.

Maybe it's that you know he can only walk so far, and he can't outwalk anything that's happened. You know he's got to stop right there; he has no choice, really.

There's something here to think about re. writing, but I don't know what it is yet. I already know that when you try too hard to show tears or laughter, you kill the moment. I already know it's usually stronger to understate emotion. But this is different--the whole thing is constructed opposite of what you'd think. I wonder if there's an equivalent for it in writing--a long shot for an emotionally wrenching scene, where distance somehow doesn't lessen what we feel.

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